The number of vehicles entering New York City through tolled bridges and tunnels hit an all-time high this year at 335 million expected vehicular crossings, according to the MTA.
This comes as public transportation ridership fell during the pandemic and has not yet fully recovered, with subway and Long Island Rail Road ridership hovering around three-quarters of pre-pandemic levels and buses around two-thirds, according to the MTA. The Metro-North Railroad, which has fewer riders overall, regained pre-pandemic ridership in early 2023.
In an email announcing the record, the MTA noted operating efficiencies leading to “greater traffic throughout, road safety, and customer experience, notably through one of its biggest transformations with the installation of Open Road Tolling.”
The agency also said cashless tolling increased daily traffic 7% while also reducing collisions.
Advocates for safer streets cast a dour view on the milestone.
“New York City already has the worst traffic in the nation and these numbers just suggest it’s getting worse and we need to give more options to New Yorkers,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.
MTA data shows bridge and tunnel crossings have climbed steadily over the years since the first tolls in 1937, when 19 million cars entered the city. There have been only a handful of periods of decreased traffic, notably around recessions and wars.
The 2020 pandemic signaled one of the sharpest drops in the number of vehicles entering the city, but traffic quickly rebounded in the summer of 2021 and regularly hits daily traffic counts higher than before the pandemic.
But advocates see ridership on public transit ridership returning, just slowly and not in the same way as before the pandemic.
“People are traveling not just when they have to, but when they want to,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA.
Daglian said MTA data shows more people are buying single-ride LIRR tickets and fewer are buying monthly passes that they might use to commute to work. She said the MTA is constantly breaking post-pandemic ridership records.
“It may be a beautiful day and people want to go out. It may be a day where there’s a great concert, maybe SantaCon,” she said. “It’s not a 9-to-5 world anymore and our travel patterns show that.”